Elton John, who is profiled in the biopic “Rocketman,” which opened Friday in movie theaters, is the first white superstar to appear as a guest on the iconic show “Soul Train.”
Don Cornelius, “Soul Train”’ host and founder, said, “Welcome, soul brother,” to John when he strutted onto the set for the show broadcast May 17, 1975. I watched Soul Train every Saturday because I dreamed of being a Soul Train dancer, although I lacked the rhythm and the moves to get in the front door. When John appeared on the show, I was shocked.
John sang “Bennie and the Jets” and “Philadelphia Freedom,” He played both songs on a plexiglass piano.
He wore a green suit and green bowler hat while singing “Bennie and the Jets,” which was a hit with black audiences. And he wore a neat brown pinstriped suit, topped off with a black cap featuring a sizeable curved feather while singing “Philadelphia Freedom.”
In between songs, he took questions from members of the “Soul Train” gang who were gaga over his appearance. Before seeing him in person, some believed he was black.
John, born Reginald Dwight, broke new ground that day. His appearance did not diminish black singers who always have appeared on “Soul Train.” His presence, however, was an acknowledgment of the show’s importance and his ability to connect with black audiences.
I have listened to a lot of British rock groups in my time, but none ever appeared on “Soul Train,” although they readily admit to being influenced by black musicians and owed their success to emulate their sound.